Love, kids and COLD WAR SPIES

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Close Up - – Zoe Nau­man

Matthew Rhys is the first to ad­mit his lat­est drama, The Amer­i­cans, is ask­ing the viewer to be­lieve the un­be­liev­able.

A show, which tells the tale of two Rus­sian spies so deeply un­der­cover they take on 24-hour Amer­i­can ac­cents, are mar­ried with chil­dren, and are liv­ing the State­side dream while min­ing in­for­ma­tion for the KGB, was al­ways go­ing to push the realms of prob­a­bil­ity.

But Rhys says that truth is al­ways stranger than fic­tion, and this is ex­actly the case with Ten’s lat­est of­fer­ing that bears a re­sem­blance to Home­land – with more sex, guns and se­crecy thrown in.

“You are ask­ing the au­di­ence to take a fan­tas­ti­cal leap, but most of it is based on spe­cific sto­ries. Cre­ator Joe Weis­berg said: ‘well ac­tu­ally that did hap­pen a lot’. That’s the bizarre thing – life is usu­ally more bizarre than fic­tion. So a lot of what you see in the se­ries is based on truth.”

Rhys, who will be re­mem­bered by most as Kevin Walker in Broth­ers & Sis­ters, plays Phillip Jen­nings in The Amer­i­cans – a man who is lit­er­ally liv­ing a dou­ble life. On the sur­face he is a run-of-themill guy in sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton with his wife El­iz­a­beth ( Keri Rus­sell) and two chil­dren Paige ( Holly Tay­lor) and Henry ( Kei­drich Sel­lati). But the cou­ple are ac­tu­ally un­der­cover KGB agents who have been trained to think, act and be­have like Amer­i­cans while spy­ing for Rus­sia dur­ing the height of the Cold War.

The drama is set in the early 1980s – cue gi­ant tape recorders, dodgy dis­guises and some iconic items on the sets that are sure to ring a few bells with au­di­ence mem­bers of a cer­tain age.

Rhys says the plot­line re­ally isn’t as far fetched as it seems. “What is fright­en­ing is in 2010, 10 il­le­gal Rus­sian op­er­a­tives were ar­rested in Jersey in New York work­ing as il­le­gals. Two of them were pos­ing as a mar­ried cou­ple who had chil­dren, which I find stag­ger­ing. They were ob­vi­ously not KGB but were part of the Rus­sian In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice. They still had op­er­a­tives in the US un­til three years ago. I un­der­stand they still do. They haven’t stopped be­cause they caught 10 of them, it’s still go­ing on. That amazes me.”

Rhys says re­search­ing his part was made a lot eas­ier thanks to the in­ter­net, and it helped him get a feel of why his char­ac­ter, who is ques­tion­ing his de­vo­tion to the mother­land, is so en­am­oured with Amer­ica. “When I was at drama school you needed to travel to the place where you were meant to be from, or take a tape recorder or go to the li­brary. Now you just watch YouTube videos and go on the in­ter­net,” he says.

“There was a very long doc­u­men­tary called the Cold War. As for Phillip, the an­gle that he has when we meet him in the se­ries, is he is on the turn.

“What I looked at was Rus­sia postSe­cond World War – the Soviet Union he would have grown up in, and how stark and dif­fi­cult a place that would have been for him. It helped put his feel­ings in per­spec­tive liv­ing in the US in 1981.”

To add to the dy­namic of con­fu­sion, Phillip and El­iz­a­beth are also find­ing their way with their do­mes­tic re­la­tion­ship.

They are ini­tially mar­ried in name only and, as part of their job, reg­u­larly have to se­duce and have sex with tar­gets to get a re­sult. But their grow­ing love for each other soon causes prob­lems for their es­pi­onage work. Rhys says the way they deal with this only adds to the great drama.

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